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ABOUT THE STORE : STORE HISTORY
Borderlands first opened its doors on Monday, November 3,
1997, at 534 Laguna Street (in San Francisco's Hayes Valley
neighborhood). The space was about 1000 square feet in a
pre-fire Victorian building. In the past the space had been
an office, an ice cream store, and was originally the
servants' quarters for the building next door. The character
of the building helped shape the aesthetic of the store, a
style that owner Alan Beatts calls "Minimalist Victorian".
During the course of getting ready to open, Alan learned how
to build bookshelves, refinish wood floors, and more about
plumbing than he ever wanted to know. Borderlands began as a
used-only bookstore, the shelves stocked with about 6,000
books (a combination of Alan's personal collection and some
great collectibles and paperbacks purchased from the
legendary, but now sadly defunct used bookstore, Know Knew
Books in Palo Alto.) The store rapidly became a meeting
place and social center for readers and authors, and hosted
many special events. The earliest events at Borderlands were
readings with authors Peter Beagle and John Shirley.
In the Spring of 1998, the store began stocking new
hardcovers, with a special focus on independent
publishers. To this day Borderlands has one of the best
selections of small-press genre titles in the country.
Near the end of that year the store began carrying
selected new softcover titles. In February of 1999, Alan
hired Borderlands' first employee, Jeremy Lassen, who
still works at the store every week despite his other job
as an editor for Night Shade Books.
In 1999, Borderlands earned the honor of Best Creepy
Movie Night in Hayes Valley from the SF Weekly newspaper,
and the Best Place to Meet a Kinky Space Cadet from the
San Francisco Bay Guardian in 2000. On the heels of both
of these awards, Alan was repeatedly reminded by his
friends and staff that "there's no such thing as bad
In March of 2001, the management learned of an
opportunity to move the store to a much larger space in
the Mission District. Since the Mission was where Alan had
wanted to open originally and the store was starting to
get a bit short on space, this seemed like a golden
opportunity. The owner of the used clothing store Captain
Jack's on Valencia Street wanted to close his store and
move to Los Angeles to become a stand-up comedian.
Borderlands took over the lease and bought the inventory
from the clothing store and for several months all of the
booksellers did double duty -- selling books at Laguna
Street and used clothes on Valencia! When all the clothes
were gone, they set about transforming the place into
Borderlands. Alan built almost all of the bookshelves
you'll see in the store photos in our Gallery , and he and the
staff put in countless hours refinishing the floors,
repainting the livid pink and green walls to the current,
more subdued antique white, building additional walls,
removing large piles of moldering jeans and other debris
from the basement, and otherwise becoming temporary handy
people to make Borderlands look the best it possibly
On Tuesday, May 8, 2001, Borderlands opened in its
current 2000 square foot space at 866 Valencia Street.
Shortly thereafter the store received an award from the
San Francisco Bay Guardian for being The Best Sign of
De-Gentrification in the Mission.
In December of 2009, after too many months of preparation
and construction, Borderlands Cafe opened in the same
building, in the space next door to the bookstore. The
space had recently become vacant after its previous long
term tenant, an upholstery and furniture repair company,
moved to the East Bay. Once again, the build-out for
the cafe involved much construction, carpentry, plumbing,
and the safe and reverent dismantling of a Santería
alter in the basement, where the previous tenants had
apparently conducted regular religious ceremonies.
During this build-out and reconstruction of the space,
many interesting details about the history of the building
were discovered, some of which have been shared at the
cafe web site.
In January of 2012, the large archway between the cafe
space and the bookstore space was uncovered, allowing
Borderlands to conduct events in the cafe space, which in
turn allowed the store to accommodate nearly twice as many
people for any given event. This change allowed us to have
many memorable signings of enormous size -- Currently
Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, and Brandon Sanderson are
swapping spots on Borderlands' "largest in-store event"
One result of this archway was that our beloved store cat
could no longer make her home in the bookstore -- the
health department frowns upon animals in restaurants, and
there is really no humane way to keep the cat from
wandering into the cafe space. She now lives at home
with the manager, but occasionally comes by the store for
The store has been mentioned by AAA's travel magazine
VIA, Gourmet Magazine, and the Washington Post.
Borderlands currently stocks nearly 30,000 titles. The
store continues to expand and today is regarded as one of
the premier genre bookstores in the country.
About Borderlands' Name
There were many reasons for calling the store
Borderlands; partially a tribute to the brilliant and
eponymous anthologies of that name, partially a nod to
Terri Windling's Bordertown books, partially a reference
to William Hope Hodgson's classic House on the Borderland,
but mostly because science fiction, fantasy, mystery and
horror exist on the borderlands of literature.
"Myths are one of our most useful techniques of living,
ways of telling the world and narrating reality, but in
order to be useful they must (however archetypal and
collectively human their structure) be retold; and the
teller makes them over -- and over." - Ursula K. Le Guin,
from Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences
"Myth is the collective language of a people. The stories
that we as a society and as individuals tell each other
color our world view and shape our responses and
judgments. These stories thrive in a hinterland of shadowy
explanation, justifying our convictions and creating a
safe place to house our deepest fears. Fantasy literature
exists at this same (mostly unexplored) periphery of
imagination and fundamental truths; the borderland from
which our deepest certainties occasionally emerge. Science
fiction, fantasy, and horror writing is the new
mythology." - Jude Feldman, Borderlands' General Manager
About Borderlands' Logo
Old Sages by the Figure of the Snake
Encircled thus, did oft expression make
Of Annual-Revolutions; and of things,
Which wheele about in everlasting-rings;
There ending, where they first of all begun ...
... These Roundells, help to shew the Mystery
of that immense and blest Eternitie,
From whence the CREATURE sprung, and into whom
It shall again, with full perfection come ...
-- A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne (London,
1635) by George Wither (the specific reference is to
uroboros (n.). Also ouroboros, uroborus. The
symbol, usually in the form of a circle, of a snake (or
dragon) eating its tail.
-- The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition
The Ouroboros (alternate spellings include oroborus,
uroboros, and oureboros) as an image dates as far back as
1600 BC, where it appears in Egypt. The name comes from
the Greek and means, literally, "biting its own tail". It
also appears in Norse mythology as Jörmungandr,
otherwise known as the Midgard Serpent which encircles the
world and will wake for the final battle between good and
evil ( Ragnarök). The Greeks interpreted it as
symbolizing the cyclic principle of the universe and that
which has no end and no beginning.
We chose the ouroboros as the logo for Borderlands
because of the relation it has to used bookselling (which
was where we got our start). Though a used book has a
beginning and (if we're unlucky) an end, there is a very
cyclic nature to the business. Any number of times we have
resold the same book over and over as one customer buys
it, later sells it back to us, and then we sell it again.
Plus, to be honest, it looks pretty neat.